Conservation Advocates Urge Increased Funding in Farm Bill

By Teaganne Finn

Conservation coalition members are calling on Congress to increase funding in the 2018 farm bill and to strengthen current conservation efforts to ensure farmers, ranchers, and foresters can effectively access those programs.

The consensus recommendations were released Sept. 27 with more than 20 organizations who contributed input and were listed as supporters. The consensus document is asking for a substantial increase in funding for Title II conservation programs, but supporters make it clear they don’t want these funds to come at the expense of other programs in Title II. One of the organizations supporting the set of recommendations is the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Alyssa Charney, policy specialist at NSAC, told Bloomberg BNA the intent of the documents are to show big picture priorities for conservation groups rather than specific figures.

The set of recommendations highlight a number of programs with detailed lists of necessary changes and several conservation provisions that also need changes. Although conservation advocates are asking to increase funding in programs they are also looking to change the requirements for some.

The Conservation Reserve Program in particular was modified in the 2014 farm bill and conservation proponents are looking to change it again. The program’s purpose is to conserve and improve soil and water quality by providing cost-share and rental payments for farmers who conserve parts of their land from production. But due to market conditions and arbitrary budget constraints the acreage cap was cut from 32 million acres to 24 million acres. Now supporters are urging Congress to increase the CRP acreage cap in the 2018 farm bill.

Additionally, the consensus recommendations are asking Congress to realign the crop insurance program so it doesn’t hinder conservation including realigning the Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency policies with conservation practices that decrease yield risk and improve sustainable production.

Lobbying Efforts

The current farm bill will expire at the end of the 2018 fiscal year, but for these conservation groups lobbying efforts for the next farm bill are just beginning.

Matt Perdue, government relations representative at National Farmers Union, told Bloomberg BNA all of the groups involved in the consensus recommendations will be using the document, along with other specific priorities in their lobbying efforts.

Programs in the set of consensus recommendations include the:

  •  Regional Conservation Partnership Program,
  •  Environmental Quality Incentive Program,
  •  Conservation Stewardship Program,
  •  Agriculture Conservation Easement Program, and
  •  Conservation Reserve Program .
Provisions in the set consensus recommendations include:
  •  Conservation Compliance,
  •  Sodsaver,
  •  Crop Insurance, and
  •  Forestry, Grassland, and Public Access.
Charney at NSAC said federal conservation programs faced a $4 billion cut in the 2014 farm bill and the need for more effective and better-resourced conservation programs is “greater now than ever” due to the rising frequency and severity of extreme weather events.

“It will be a challenging road ahead,” said Charney, but with conservation “the need is pretty clear.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Teaganne Finn in Washington at tfinn@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.